Thursday, October 4, 2012

the issue of ease, part 2

So, seeing how much latitude is available with respect to ease, there are two questions to be answered before you start that garment.
  • How much ease do you want in the sweater you are making?
  • How do you work with the pattern to get it?
Here is what you will do to answer these questions and produce a sweater that fits the way you want.
  1. Find the size you would normally knit. (If you don't know, measure yourself around the widest part of your bust. In standard sizes, S = 32–34; M = 36–38; L = 40–42; 1X = 44–46; 2X = 48–50. For other sizes, extrapolate from this: for hips, add 2" to every number.) Let's assume you have a 41" bust, which makes you a L.
  2. Find the finished measurement for that size.  Let's assume it's 45". Now hold a tape measure at your bust at 45" and see how it feels. If you love it, then knit that size: you are done! But if you don't love how it will fit, then do the following steps.
  3. Go to another garment of the same style (and it doesn't have to be a sweater)--one whose fit you like--and measure its circumference, then try it on to remind yourself how it fits on your body. (Please see the bullets below where I discuss this step further.) Once you are sure of the bust measurement you want, record it.
  4. Let's assume the circumference you like is a little smaller than the pattern's. What can you do? Because there is usually 4" difference between sizes, this would mean the L is 45" and the M is 41". You have a 41" bust, so you would get 0 ease if you knit the M. But if knit a L front and a M back, you'd get a finished circumference of 43", which might be exactly what you want! So do it!
  5. On the other hand, let's assume the circumference you like is a little larger than the pattern's. You could get more ease if you knit a 1X front and a L back. (You might notice that I prefer to put the larger size in the front--because this is how we are shaped.) So do that!
There is more to say about step 3.
  • I'm saying bust, but (as you read yesterday) if the garment is longer we work with the hip measurement.
  • By style, I'm referring to what you might think of as armhole style: set-in sleeve, raglan, drop shoulder. How something is shaped to fit the armhole has a huge bearing on the amount of ease it needs (as you saw in yesterday's post).
  • Some folks say they don't have a garment whose fit they like. Okay. Try on something you don't like, preferably something too big around the bust! Pinch it to see how much smaller should it be.
  • If the thing you are measuring is a light blouse or fine T-shirt, please appreciate that your knit garment will be a heavier fabric and might need 1" more ease.
So, let's assume you finished steps 1–2 and can confidently knit your size. Congratulations! You are done. You need read no further.

But what if you've done the work of steps 1–5 and now know you need to blend sizes. Do not fear! This blending of sizes is something I find myself doing a lot--even when I knit from my own patterns. Why? Because some of my patterns are 10 years old, and 10 years ago styles were looser. Now that I want a closer-to-the-body fit, I find myself knitting M fronts and S backs a lot.

Is it as simple as it sounds? Well . . . no . . . not quite (and when is anything ever as simple as it sounds?!?).

For one thing, working a different size for the front and back doesn't work for a drop shoulder (or most kinds of modular knitting). But the drop shoulder is a style that is better knit with a lot of ease, so chances are you could just knit your size anyway!(And the same could be said for most modular knitting.)

If you are making a set-in sleeve or raglan--the styles we are more fond of--the blending of sizes does work. You might have to fiddle numbers (for the shoulder width of the set-in sleeve, for the armhole decreases for the raglan, for the underarm bind-off for both), but this should not be a stretch.
  • For the set-in sleeve, decrease to the shoulder width that fits your shoulders.
  • For the raglan, you might have to slow down your armhole decreases on the smaller piece--so your armhole is not too short on that side. To slow down decreases, just skip a few decrease rows. (I don't love the raglan, because it is not flattering on many of us and is difficult to make fit. So maybe the first time you do this should be with a set-in sleeve?)
  • For either the set-in sleeve or raglan, there will be an armhole bind-off: bind off the number of stitches for the size sleeve you are making. (For example, if the armhole bind-off is 5 stitches for the M and 7 stitches for the L, then bind off 5 stitches for both.)
  • For the set-in sleeve or raglan, you will have to decide which size sleeve you want (L or M?). Make the armhole depth and sleeve for that size, binding off the number of stitches from the previous bullet at each underarm.
If you are someone who just wants to knit the pattern (and is afraid to deviate), then please consider the following.

There's probably nothing more important to your knitting than having it fit properly: doing this work will ensure that.

This kind of work is very good for your brain: you will be a healthier version of yourself for doing it.

Knitting is extraordinarily flexible! If you goof up a little, chances are the knitting will forgive you.

Fear and knitting  are two words that should never occur in the same sentence!


  1. I LOVE this series!! Thanks so much.

  2. Wow! Thanks for the enthusiasm!

  3. Sally, I find ALL of your blog posts so helpful and interesting. Just wanted to say thank you.

  4. You are SO very welcome!
    My aim is to impart what I have learned from MANY years of trial and error.
    Not done yet, to be sure.

  5. I have learned so much from your blog. Keep up the sharing of your knowledge! Having just given away a sweater made with lace and miles of stockinette knit with fingering weight yarn I wish I had seen this post before I knit something that fit my bust but was WAAAY too big in the shoulders and sleeves.

  6. Thanks for sharing too.

    That is such a sad but common thing. The standard in women's clothing--whether ready-to-wear or knitting pattern--is ever wider shoulders for ever larger sizes . . . with the result that most garments don't fit anyone! Most of us are 15–16" shoulders, but some small girls have wide shoulders and some large girls have narrow ones. I have started writing patterns with one size for all shoulders plus a note on how to adjust at that point. Unfortunately, I'm sorry for how many years to took me to reach that conclusion.

    And sleeves--most are TOO BIG! In classes, I frequently advise a L front, and M back, and a S sleeve . . . if that's what you need when you measure a garment that fits and see that that's how you'll get it from that particular pattern.

    The bottom line is that we need to learn to NOT FOLLOW THE PATTERN!

    I do hope to see you in class some day: I think we'd have a meeting of minds. And failing that, I'll recommend my next book. Sounds like you are ready for something that leads you through the steps to make something fit!

    In the meantime, thanks again for writing.

  7. I just want to say thank you for sharing your insight. It is wonderful to finally hear that changing patterns is not only ok, but necessary. My knitting friends think I'm crazy because I have never knitted a pattern as written. I began changing patterns from necessity because very few are written for Eastern uncrossed or combination knitting, which is how I knit. This made me willing to look at every pattern as a 'suggestion' not a hard, fast rule. Your willingness to share years of trial and error will make me an even more 'fearless' knitter. Thank you.

  8. How wonderful of you to have always known that things should be changed.

    When I was asked by the SEATTLE GUILD "What's the most common mistake knitters make" the words that FLEW out of my mouth were "They follow the pattern." I didn't know until I said them that they were my answer, but I stick by them and teach from that starting point.

    I hope you can take my KNIT TO FLATTER AND FIT class some time. It is based upon this premise, and I think you'd love it. Sometimes classes teach new stuff, sometimes they solidify what we already know. Both are worthy.

    Again, thanks for writing,

  9. Hi folks,

    I have made a modification to my suggestions for mixing sizes--in the instructions for the armhole bind off. That bullet now reads as follows.

    * For either the set-in sleeve or raglan, there will be an armhole bind-off: bind off the number of stitches for the size sleeve you are making. (For example, if the armhole bind-off is 5 stitches for the M and 7 stitches for the L, then bind off 5 stitches for both.)

    This way, the armhole bind off will match what you do for the sleeve. It's not a big deal, but I think it will make things a little easier.

  10. Hey Sally, I stumbled upon you blog through my LYS, and I am super excited to meet you next week for your class at VKL!

    It sounds like this is exactly what I need to learn to really improve my sweater knitting

    Molly : )

  11. Please introduce yourself!
    Much looking forward to VKL, even with a newly sprained ankle. Might limit my footwear but NOT my enthusiasm!

  12. Catching up on my blog reading. Thanks for another very useful post.

    Question for you and your readers: Why oh why is adjusting a knitting pattern to fit not part of the standard learn-to-knit regimen?

    It is in sewing. It's usually topic #2, right after topic #1 being "these are the tools and materials of garment sewing". It's simply the necessary way things are done. Why don't we knitters get the same consideration?

    Needless to say, I appreciate every article on fitting of knitting patterns I come across.

  13. The difference between knitting and sewing fascinates me! You are absolutely right about topic #2, and it's pretty much what my KNIT TO FLATTER AND FIT class is based upon. But why?

    I think we all took lessons in sewing--in school usually. So we were taught in a structured way. Not so with knitting. No structured course of study for most of us. We were on the way to learning as we went, as generations before us did.

    And then our worlds changed: globalization and feminism (both good things, by the way) changed basic patterns of the "domestic" arts. And so knitting became something women with enough disposable income did. And they didn't have to make things fit because they could buy what they wore. So they knit glorious things that didn't have to fit!

    My personal sense is that knitters now crave those lost skills. And so they take classes. And they learn to make things fit. And they honour their craft!

    Because this is so important to me, it's the subject of my next book.

  14. So, you are going to publish the book on the pattern drafting! When will it be out? I cherish the handouts I got from your class. There was so much more you added while speaking as well, but I don't recall all of it, so I have been hoping for the book.

    Had lunch with a knitter friend who lives far away recently. She is an accomplished seamstress and knitter. She described what she wants to knit next (designing it herself), and it was a lightweight lacy cardigan that went past the hips. I said OH! An a-line, Sally gave us great instructions and ideas for successful A-lines. I was able to share with her what I had learned, and her background in sewing made it all make sense.

    Need anyone to read and comment on a galley...??

  15. Wow, what a success story! How great that you have each other!

    The book will be out Mar 26, 2013. I am hoping it adds a needed piece to our industry. There seem to be many waiting for this information.